The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

6 Types of Stories that Spur Giving

[Editor’s note: We’re very excited to announce that Nancy Schwartz will be a regular columnist for Network for Good’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog. Twice each month, Nancy will share her expert tips and insight on communications, marketing, and sector trends. Enjoy!]

As a fundraiser, you aim to change how people perceive your organization’s work and cause, then motivate them to give. Connection is the lubricant for this conversion, but the deadly dull way so many organizations discuss their work frequently gets in the way. Yawn!

Relevant messages wrapped in memorable stories (that strike the heart, then the head) are your way to compelling content and the conversions you seek.

But wait, there’s a problem—so frequently my mention of storytelling to nonprofit colleagues gets an eye roll. There’s so much generic, vague advice out there about storytelling, storytelling, storytelling, and so little concrete guidance and/or specific success stories, especially among nonprofits. You know what I mean.

So here’s a practical antidote to all that—six stories your organization already has to tell. Your first step is identifying the stories you have to tell in each category:

1. Your Founding Story
This is how your organization was created:

  • Get into the details, as if your founder is telling you “the why” at a party or on a car ride. If that info isn’t available, ask relatives, long-time employees and colleagues.
  • Drill down into the personal side of that act—did she have a friend with cancer, come from a country that was long in civil war or…?

2. Your Focus Story

If your founding story tells how your organization came into existence, your focus story should explain why you exist. What is the core challenge you tackle?

  • Connect the dots between your organization’s work and impact and your ultimate beneficiaries, even if there are layers in between.
  • Get detailed and personal, as if you’re telling his or her story to someone who knows nothing about it. These details help make your story memorable and more likely to be repeated to others.
  • Include visuals—they really can be worth 1,000 words!

3. Your Impact Stories

These most-told nonprofit stories feature the before and after—and illustrate the impact of your organization and supporters. They are unequaled in showing the value of your organization’s work in moving your issue or cause forward and matching the personal goals of prospects and supporters.

  • Focus on the difference your organization’s work makes in the life of someone (keep it to a single person or a family in each story if you can).
  • Outline the before and the after in an emotional way.
  • Testimonials, with a face and name if possible, have impact here.

4. Your People Stories
These are your donor, staff, volunteer, client/participant profiles. Craft these stories to make it easy for your prospective donors, partners and more to stand in the shoes of your current supporters.

  • You already have these stories on hand. And if you don’t have the details and permissions that will make them even stronger, go back and get those elements for recent stories and collect proactively going forward.
  • Don’t feature stories that are too unusual—there has to be a point of connection or others won’t be able to see themselves in that story (your goal).
  • Fill your people stories with specifics—they spent the holidays living in their car. Details allow the reader or listener to feel your story, not just process it.

5. Your Strength Stories
Strength stories showcase how your organization’s particular focus or approach adds value to the community you serve and/or and moves your issue or cause forward in a way unmatched by other organizations (a.k.a. differentiation). Your strength story is a powerful influencer in your prospects’ decision to join forces with (or to continue supporting) your organization.

  • Focus in on one or two strengths at most.
  • Don’t be afraid to brag a bit—just be prepared to back up your claims with results.
  • Endorsements from credible spokespeople or authority figures can help illustrate how your organization is unique and valued in your community.

6. Your Future Stories
Think about the change you want to make in the world or what your work will do. Future story power comes in bringing to life—in a tangible, visible, visual and personal way—what is most frequently left as a vague, abstract and overly-wordy concept.

Future stories have perhaps the greatest potential of all story types to hook your people at a gut level and motivate them to take the actions you need because you’re putting your dreams out there, making it easy for them to link their dreams to yours!

  • Go beyond your mission and vision statements and dig into specific, observable outcomes, described in simple terms.
  • Think of your future story as a “destination postcard” and underscore how your donors are an important part of your journey.

Those are the six story types YOUR organization has to tell. They have the potential to motivate people to give, volunteer, sign petitions, and participate in programs.

Begin by taking an inventory of the stories you have to tell in each category. Then build each one out using the guidelines above. Dive into shaping yours now! Got a great example of a story your organization uses to inspire supporters? Share it in the comments below.

With refreshing practicality, Nancy Schwartz rolls up her sleeves to help nonprofits develop and implement strategies to build the strong relationships that inspire key supporters to action. She shares her deep nonprofit marketing insights—and passion—through consulting, speaking, and her popular blog and e-news at GettingAttention.org.

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About This Blog

Linda Lombardi

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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